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How To Decide About Prenatal Testing

gene mapA pregnant woman has to make some tough choices. And some of the toughest revolve around prenatal testing.  For some the decision is simplified by strong beliefs. But for many expecting parents who are looking to find out genetic information prenatally, things can get complicated. Screening tests are non invasive, but they’re also inconclusive. At this point, the only way to get authoritative genetic data about a fetus in development is to do one of two invasive tests: Amniocentisis or Chorionic Villi Sampling. Miscarriage is an unlikely but real possibility with either procedure.

In making the choice,  women (and their partners) are often advised to look at statistics: What’s the risk of miscarrying from this procedure? 1 in 100? 1 in 1000? The reality is that risks vary according to geography, facility, even individual practitioner. The even harsher reality is that those statistics aren’t just numbers, they’re people. The writer Lynn Harris is one of the women who lost her baby after prenatal testing.

While her story may not be for the faint of pregnant heart, it comes along with some really important information.

Harris is still recovering from the loss of that first pregnancy. But losing her baby didn’t make her lose faith in the process of prenatal testing. She goes on to tell the story of how, in a subsequent pregnancy, she became deeply grateful for the information only an invasive test could provide.  Beyond this strangely uplifting pregnancy horror story, Lynn Harris offers some invaluable advice to people struggling with the choice of whether to have an amnio, CVS or neither.

Her own choice was guided by advice from a friend. The decision, her friend said, is not about statistics, but about your own values. I remember having these conversations with Ceridwen when we were pregnant, too:

Which of the worst case scenarios could you live with?

All of the options can seem so painful, coming to a conclusion about this can be really, really difficult.  But I do think the advice Lynn Harris gives is incredibly valuable, and is all the more meaningful considering her own experience. Statistics are a start, yes, but the real guiding force in a choice like this needs to be some deep soul searching about what matters most to you. Getting to that place isn’t easy, but it is important— you’re the one who will be living with the results of your choice.

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